Confessions of a fashion editor: 10 things I learned at my first fashion week
Glamour and grime
There are a few emotionally definitive moments in life that even the most hardened of hearts can't dismiss. The birth of your child, your first house, that shark diving trip with your girlfriends at the wake of your 30th birthday. My pleasures are considerably more tactile.
At Jardins du Trocadéro over two weeks ago, the last goosebump moment I experienced snuck up on me as I turned a corner outside the palace. The sun was setting; its rays cast a soft orange veil over the tallest tower in The City of Light. It was love at first sight. I know, I know. Tour Eiffel in Paris. Groundbreaking.
For a small town girl who's dreamt of a life in fashion since her pre-teen Seventeen magazine flipping days, it really was. I didn't grow up with the same privileges many of my peers did, so going to Paris and Milan for the first time, to cover fashion week for Buro 24/7 Singapore no less, was doubly significant.
Being the Virgo that I am, I took it all very seriously — making sure I knew the names of every designer and their modus operandi, and binge reading past collection reviews from industry experts. The boss-in-chief also imparted survival tips: Load up on vitamins; write the reviews in the car between appointments, before each show begins and at lunch to save time later; trade pre-bedtime Netflix for sleep. I memorised all the rules, but playing with the big boys was a whole different ball game, I would soon realise.
Below, the ten lessons I learned on the field:
1. Fashion week is a marathon, not a sprint
Milan shows are mercilessly compounded in five days; Paris' schedule is longer, with editors shuffling between the arrondissements for more than a week. The first show usually begins at 9.30am and there are usually about four shows worth attending daily — not counting the press presentations (smaller houses showcase their collections in showrooms instead of runway) peppered throughout. We only return to our hotels about midnight, after 3-hour-long press dinners. A gruelling schedule, even for workaholics. Energy conservation is key.
2. The shows never start on time
...and they are over before you know it. Gucci's spring/summer 2018 preview, though delayed by almost an hour, only lasted 15 minutes or so. Similarly, Dolce & Gabbana got us anxiously checking our watches too. However, we find the saying "all good things come to those who wait" to be true.
3. Seats are extremely hard to get
Every editor from every magazine wants a front row seat. That wish would be granted for some; a few unlucky ones may be denied even a spot on the standing pit. The fashion industry is a paradox. It can be progressive yet provincial, its practices deeply rooted in a systemic hierarchy. Translation: The more senior your title, the better your view of the runway. Editor-in-chiefs and popular social media influencers almost always sit courtside, the rest closeby, in their shadows. As a new face in the fashion week circuit, I'm incredibly thankful to have attended many shows, but I also missed out on a few major ones. On hindsight, where's the fun if everything come easy? I live to fight another season.
4. Almost all the street style snaps are staged
Don't be fooled. That perfect picture of Giovanna Battaglia crossing Via Solari likely took several takes — most of the time, at the expense of a Mercedes build-up behind her. Influencers who want their OOTDs documented often request to be dropped off a few streets over. This is so photographers have more room to take photos of them strolling to the show venues, in different poses under a selection of lighting, increasing the chances of a winning shot worthy of publication.
5. People aren't always going to be nice
At the risk of hyping a stereotype, here's a true story I'm not ashamed of sharing: I bumped into a prominent blogger I've long admired after the Prada show. She too was in line at Officine del Gelato. I spoke first. "OMG. Your outfit is amazing!" Her response, a deadpan "Thanks," proceeded by a pouty one-over. Can't win them all.
6. Some people will be unexpectedly lovely
I was relegated to stand at the Marni preview — totally not a big deal — but when I shared with the other Singaporean media members that my view of the runway was pretty much non-existent (I'm short), they offered to squeeze on FROW to make room for me on the main floor. When that didn't quite work, the creative director of a competing publication found, and took me to a more comfortable empty seat in the nick of time. #grateful
7. Fake it until you make it
Fact: You may be a "big shot" editor in Singapore, but you are nobody in Paris unless you have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, or you're Tim Blanks, or Anna della Russo, or their equivalents. Fashion week is the big leagues, the Wimbledon of fashion if you will. I was a little fish in a big pond, and there was no use in pretending otherwise. The thing is, it's in the biggest of ponds you gain the most rewarding of experiences. While I saw my inexperience as an opportunity, I also had to play my strengths with dignity. We all start somewhere. And mine was one surreal "somewhere" I wasn't ashamed of.
8. Photo requests are ok, selfies are tolerated but fangirl-ing is not
I died a little inside when Grace Coddington opened the door for me at Céline. "Should I whip out my phone?" "Is it too late?" "Do I leap to hug her and profess my love?" are samples of my internal dialogue. Sanity prevailed, thus saving me from eternal embarrassment, thank goodness. I wasn't brave enough to test fashion's cool façade, leaving me without a photo with the legend. Later, I suspected she would have obliged — if Anna Wintour entertains pre-show photo ops, who's to say the more approachable Coddington wouldn't?
9. You can wear whatever you want
Anything goes at fashion week, from blinding colour clashes to out-of-this-world headpieces. The instinct was to dress to impress. At the behest of my boss, I planned my outfits prior to departure to look on point AF, but halfway into the Milan leg, my dressing relaxed somewhat. I shunned the comfort-impeding accessories for more practical (though still chic) options, simply because I was on a mission — to attend all the shows in a timely fashion, write thoughtful reviews, eat properly, pee, sleep and repeat. Survival became top priority and that headspace had no room for things that slowed me down.
10. But stilettos are highly impractical
Have you seen the cobblestone pavements in Europe? Are you out of your mind? If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second like I did, then you get my drift. Save the blisters for another day!
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